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Online Study at Stanford to Investigate Fibromyalgia and Arthritis Self-Care Techniques

  [ 404 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • November 29, 2004

from Press Release (Stanford) Healthier Living with Arthritis program

People who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia are invited to join a Stanford University Medical Center study of an online workshop that teaches skills for symptom management, with an emphasis on feeling better and more confident while increasing activity levels. "Arthritis is probably the most prevalent chronic disease and the greatest cause of disability in the United States, but it doesn’t get as much attention as other diseases because it is not a killer," said the study’s principal investigator Kate Lorig, DrPH, professor of medicine, a nurse and a longtime proponent of self-management techniques.

Called the Healthier Living with Arthritis program, the online workshop lasts for six weeks. After completion, participants will be followed for two years to see how effective the Internet can be in helping them learn lasting skills to manage their arthritis and to maintain or increase their level of activity. Lorig, along with health educators Diana Laurent and Katy Matthews, have adapted the program from the community-based Arthritis Self-Help program. The program was developed over 20 years through a series of National Institutes of Health grants to study arthritis patient education. More than 2,000 patients have taken part. Compared with those who did not take the workshops, participants showed significant improvement in exercise, cognitive symptom management, communication with physicians and self-reported health. They also had fewer outpatient doctor visits. Successful results following the program persisted for as long as four years.

By adapting the self-management course to an online environment, Stanford hopes to reach people who might be unable to attend community classes or who might be discouraged from an in-person gathering, Matthews said. Participants simply need to have Internet access and an active e-mail account. Sessions are highly interactive through e-mail and online discussion boards.

Workshop topics include:
--Techniques to deal with problems such as pain, fatigue, frustration and isolation
--Appropriate exercise for maintaining and improving strength, flexibility and endurance
--Appropriate use of medications
--Communicating effectively with family, friends and health professionals
--Healthy eating
--Making informed treatment decisions
--Disease-related problem solving
--Getting a good night’s sleep

"Lots of people are affected by arthritis, but we are reaching only a small percentage of them with current efforts," said Lorig. "We are not proposing an alternative to standard therapies but an additional technique." Qualified participants will be randomly assigned to either a workshop group or a control group. Those enrolled in the six-week workshop will be subdivided into groups of 24, led by two leaders, one or both of whom also has arthritis. Participants will then log-on two to three times a week for a total of one to two hours. They can work at their own pace and have a week to get through each subject area. Over a two-year period, both groups will complete five follow-up online questionnaires about their health status, health-care utilization and self-management behaviors. At the end of the first year, control-group participants will be invited to enroll in the six-week workshop and they will be followed for another year. U.S. residents over the age of 18 with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia who wish to enroll in the study or receive more information may visit the program’s Web site at To contact the study coordinators, e-mail or call (800) 366-2624. Participation is free.

The study is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs at

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